Elevation, the restaurant at Central Oregon Community College's Cascade Culinary Institute, has already been on foodies' radars as a place to eat an elegant meal for a lower-than-usual price. It's a place where budding chefs and hopeful hospitality professionals learn how to hone their skills and land a career in the industry. But when COVID-19 restrictions shut down the rest of the world back in March, Elevation, the public-facing portion of the school, was forced to shut down its public operations, too.
Instead of meeting in person to learn the intricacies of making guests feel welcome while serving them food and wine, CCI's students were relegated to Zoom, where instructors would lay out tables and quiz them on the placement of each knife, fork and spoon. But learning like that for the better part of a year definitely had its drawbacks.
"They weren't really learning the guest relations, or the interaction-with-the-guests part was missing, which made me sad," said Samuel La Duca, assistant professor II of hospitality management at CCI. La Duca teaches the Dining Operations class, where students learn about building relationships with guests and other "real-world restaurant operations." Inside Elevation's kitchen, chef instructors teach Kitchen Operations, with the two courses operating in tandem to give students and guests alike the vibe of a commercial restaurant. Students began meeting again in person this school term.
Under normal circumstances, the classes La Duca teaches involve inviting "real-world" guests into Elevation, first for lunchtime operations and later for evening meals.
As the CCI website explains, "Elevation, CCI's student-operated restaurant, serves as the capstone course for students and an opportunity for community members to enjoy sustainable cuisine with a farm-to-table emphasis."
With COVID restrictions forcing all other restaurants in Extreme Risk-level counties—including Deschutes County, where Elevation is located—to open only for takeout or outdoor dining, it was only natural for the students to learn to adapt by offering a takeout-only menu this term. Like its in-house dining experience, Elevation meals come with a starter, a main dish and a dessert, all for $10. Current menu items include a Grilled Savoy Cabbage Caesar or Roasted Mushroom & Wild Rice Soup for appetizers, a Chicago Beef Sandwich and Felafal & Naan for entrees and a Chocolate Nanaimo Bar for dessert, among other offerings. Unlike other restaurants, allowed to offer takeaway wine, beer or cocktails under the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's temporary rules, Elevation isn't offering alcohol to go.
Students began taking takeout phone orders Jan. 15, allowing patrons to pick up their meals from CCI's food truck parked outside.
"We take it slow in the very beginning," La Duca said. "With the takeout we are doing from 11 to 12:30 with the first 10 phone calls. We're going to try that—just to limit it, to see how we're doing using that system."
With risk levels the way they currently are, it's a similar experience to what students would have if they were working in other restaurants—learning about takeout materials and which ones are made from sustainable materials, for example, or how to work together as a team during a crisis situation, La Duca said.
"They're actually learning from a standpoint of a regular business." - Samuel La Ducatweet this
"It's kind of nice, because they're actually learning from a standpoint of a regular business," La Duca told the Source.
While it's not yet decided whether—or when—students would begin serving guests in person when Deschutes County's restaurants are once again allowed to do so, students in the classes seem to be taking it in stride and enjoying the expertise they're absorbing from their instructors.
As I was leaving the hustle and bustle that represented the end of class time for students in the Dining Operations class, one student shouted "La Duca is the best teacher!" as she walked out the door.
Elevation is offering lunchtime takeout on Fridays on first-come first-serve basis through March 12. Face coverings are required when guests come to pick up their orders.